Uber ditched its work on developing self-driving cars in 2020 but in recent weeks the company has signaled that it’s still interested in exploring elements of autonomous technology for its services.
This week, for example, it’s emerged that Serve Robotics is planning to expand its tie-up with Uber Eats to deploy 2,000 of its diminutive delivery robots in locations across the U.S. and Canada from later this year or early next, TechCrunch reported.
The partnership currently involves a small-scale delivery service in a small part of Los Angeles that started last year, with more than 200 restaurants now using the wheel-based bot to deliver meals to hungry customers between the hours of 10 a.m. and 9 p.m.
It’s not yet clear which locations will host the new meal-delivery robots, though San Jose, Dallas, and Vancouver are reportedly prime candidates.
Originally founded in 2017 as part of Postmates’ robotics unit, Serve was spun off as an independent startup in 2021 following Uber’s acquisition of Postmates a year earlier.
Serve’s waist-high robots, which resemble in many ways those operated by Starship Technologies and Ottonomy, tootle along the sidewalk on four wheels and can work for pretty much a whole day on a single charge of its incorporated battery.
The autonomous, sensor-laden vehicle has a top speed of 7 mph (about 11 kph) and contains a small meal-carrying compartment that’s unlocked by the customer when it arrives at its destination.
Commenting on the expanded deal with Uber, Ali Kashani, co-founder and CEO of Serve Robotics, described it as a “major step towards mass commercialization of robotics for autonomous delivery,” adding that he’s keen to “bring this innovative technology to more cities across the country.”
In another mark of Uber’s continuing interest in autonomous technology, the company recently revealed that Waymo’s robotaxis will soon be bookable via Uber’s own ridesharing app. The service will start later this year in parts of Phoenix, Arizona, where Waymo already offers robotaxi rides for paying passengers through its Waymo One app.
Uber has also partnered with Motional to deliver food in Santa Monica, California, using a self-driving version of Hyundai’s IONIQ 5 SUV.